The season finale of “Smallville” is tonight and that means we’ll finally learn who gets axed. The cast and crew remain tight-lipped about whose days in Metropolis are numbered. Hero Complex stalwart Yvonne Villarreal snagged a few minutes with relative newcomer Cassidy Freeman — who, as Tess Mercer, has the tricky task of filling the villainous void left by Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor). Freeman reflected on the season and but played it coy about tonight’s big finale.
YV: What was it like trying to fill Rosenbaum’s shoes? He has quite the following.
CF: It was really cool. It was like someone handed me a big present … but they were like, ‘Here, unwrap it … but make sure you do it well.’ It was a lot of responsibility as far as taking over for a character that is so loved on the show. But it was also a really great opportunity, I think. The difference between coming onto a show that’s already been going for so long and doing a new pilot is you don’t have to worry about the same stuff. This is a well-oiled machine. They’ve got everything down and you’re a new additive. So it allowed me to really focus on myself and this character and how I wanted to help this story along. So it’s a huge responsibility but it also gave me a little bit of freedom.
YV: Reflecting on your arrival, how do you think you’ve done after the disappearance of Lex? Do you think your character has managed to hold her own?
CF: I think I’ve done fabulously [laughs]. I’m one of those goofy people on set who likes to have a lot of fun, so I hope that I added to the experience. But I think Tess did a great job. I think that it’s difficult to do. No one wanted Lex Luthor to leave. But they did a very smart thing with the writing. They made the first season about her looking for Lex and her connection to Lex and then they chose that form of betrayal so she got to cut off that connection, at least emotionally, which is really smart because then she started to create her own character.
YV: So … is that character a good guy or a bad guy?
CF: That’s a difficult thing. I consider myself human, which is equally odd on “Smallville.” It’s funny; Tess, because she’s not an actual character from the comics, doesn’t have a destiny like everyone on the show does. Clark has a destiny. Lex has a destiny. Every week I see the script and I’m surprised by what she does. Because it does seem so flip-floppy because it’s like: “Who is she? Why can’t we define her?” What’s interesting is, instead of being ruled by destiny, she’s ruled by her own passion and her life experience, which I think is a really cool juxtaposition against the rest of the characters because she’s living in the now. She’s not living in the past. She’s not living in the what will be. She’s living in the now. She tries to make things happen because of how she feels. I think that’s a cool difference. I think that’s why she fits in so well.
YV: Given that Tess isn’t a character in the comics, how difficult was it preparing for the role? Were you a fan of Superman or “Smallville” prior to getting the part?
CF: I wasn’t. I started watching it, obviously, when I got the part. I was like, “I’ve got to know what world I’m getting into.” And there wasn’t a lot of time. I got the role and three weeks later I started filming. That’s all I did. I went to work and then I‘d come home and watch “Smallville.” I knew about Superman. I wasn’t a huge fan … but I am now. I’m totally a fan. I also watched a lot of Michael [Rosenbaum]. I knew that the beginning of this was going to be a lot about Lex. And I wanted to do justice to him and to that character. Also, very smartly, they wrote the role so that she kind of comes out of nowhere so it allowed me a little bit of naivete at the beginning. I come in and I have to put up this super strong front so I seem powerful, but, really, Tess doesn’t know what’s going on, so that was an easy thing to play; it was like art imitating life imitating art imitating life. I also journaled a lot. I would journal as my character and I would talk about how I felt about certain things, what I thought Oliver is doing, our past. You know, I sort of created this other persona.
YV: Speaking of other personas, there was that airplane and parachute incident this season that left viewers wondering … does Tess officially know Clark’s secret?
CF: Yeah. She knows … if she believes what she reads. But she wants to hear it from him because she takes people at their word. And I think she’s been let down enough that she expects people to stand up for who they are and what they believe in and that’s the only time she can respect them. And she wants to respect Clark because she finally found a man that does the right thing all the time, which she didn’t think existed. She can’t buy into this belief that there is a Superman until he says it himself.
YV: What’s the motivation behind Tess trying to get Clark to come clean?
CF: I think that she wants goodness, which seems odd because she’s killing people left and right [laughs]. But if there’s a person out there that can actually make things better — there’s a line she says, “I get it, if everyone were a little bit more like you the world would be a better place.” I think that’s what she wants. She wants the world to be a better place. She doesn’t want people like Lex Luthor to have this power. The first step in doing that is to have the man, who is the best, to come out and be the example that we all need to see. And she wants him to go and do that. Now, she has all this power so she can sort of be this catalyst. And she’s willing to sort of be this sacrificial catalyst for that, I think.
YV: Well, since Clark doesn’t seem to be revealing his secret any time soon, maybe you can reveal a few tidbits from this Thursday’s finale. We know there will be several deaths in the finale…
CF: Uh-huh, dying left and right, dropping like flies.
YV: Will Tess be back next season?
CF: We don’t know yet. I can’t tell you. Well, I know … but I can’t tell you.
YV: Darn! What can you tell us? What can fans expect from the finale?
CF: Lex is not in the finale. There have been rumors that Michael’s talked about coming back, maybe next year, I don’t know. But, for the finale, you’re going to see Black Canary. You’re going to see the Justice League. There’s always death. But there’s this really cool, clever twist in the finale that I’m excited about. I wish I could tell you. I wish we could talk about it.
YV: Will fans like it?
CF: You know … I think it’s going to create a little bit of a ruckus. But we’ll see. They’ll have to watch.
— Yvonne Villarreal
Top photo: Cassidy Freeman. Credit: The CW. Bottom photo: Misha Collins. Credit: Jsquared Photography